“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness about me.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this festival of Pentecost comes from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the fifteenth and sixteenth chapters of the Gospel according to Saint John. Dear friends in Christ, if there is one festival in the Church Year that gets the short end of the stick, it is Pentecost. In a normal year it is overlooked by most Christians, but this year it is overshadowed even more by the high holy days of Memorial Day weekend; most people who spend this morning at the lake will hardly realize that they missed anything. It’s hard to believe that for centuries, Pentecost was as important to the Christian Church as Christmas or Easter. But in that way, the Church was simply following the example of Jesus. Our Lord sure thought that Pentecost was important. In fact, in our text today, He says something that sounds almost ridiculous: “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you.” Jesus thought that Pentecost, the promised sending of the Holy Spirit, was better than having God Himself in the flesh walking this earth among us. Why? Why is it better for us to have our Lord go away, leaving us behind in this world of sin and death? Why is Pentecost so important?
The disciples thought the same thing; they wanted to keep Jesus around, they couldn’t imagine what life would be like without Him. Jesus saw it on their faces. “I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to the one who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart.” They are so sorrowful they can’t speak, but they don’t see the whole picture. If Jesus stays, these twelve disciples will remain in their sins. If Jesus doesn’t depart and go to the Father through the cross and empty tomb, salvation will not be won; you and I, along with the twelve disciples, will die eternally. Jesus cannot stay, salvation can only be won through His death and resurrection, through His departure, and that is why He came.
But Jesus wasn’t only speaking in our text about the cross. Jesus would depart in a cruel and bloody death, but three days later He would rise, victorious over the tomb. The disciples thought that Jesus had come back to stay; but it soon became apparent that Christ intended to do no such thing; He was departing to be with His Father, as He had promised on Maundy Thursday, and the same sorrow filled their hearts. But even now, as they watched their Lord ascend, to return only at the end of the age, these words of Jesus still rang true: “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you.” Jesus declares that what the Holy Spirit will do among His people will be more advantageous to the Church and the world than if He still walked this earth Himself. “When He comes, He will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.”
The Holy Spirit comes to convict, to expose and bring to light. He comes to make all things clear, His work is to proclaim the truth. He speaks the truth about sin: “concerning sin, because they do not believe in me.” The Holy Spirit reveals the true nature of sin: the only sin that counts is unbelief. The Holy Spirit has come to rebuke this world for its rejection of Christ. That is the only sin that matters, and it matters for eternity. Those who don’t believe in the redemption of Christ have only sin, in fact, every deed they do, whether ‘good’ or not, is a sin. Eternal salvation doesn’t come from doing the right thing or ‘living a good life’ but solely and only from believing in Christ and His redemption. The Holy Spirit condemns every good deed done without faith in Jesus.
On our own, we can do nothing good, because we have no righteousness. The Holy Spirit must speak this truth about righteousness: “concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer.” Righteousness is purity and holiness before God, literally a right standing in the face of His Law, and the Holy Spirit declares that you, along with the world, don’t have it. You have no righteousness in yourself, for you are sinful. You are polluted, dirty, corrupted with the filth of sin. God’s Law is the standard for righteousness, and you fail. The Law says, ‘Do not murder,’ and you hate your brother, the Law says, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ and you lust, the Law says ‘Do not bear false witness,’ and you gossip. Most importantly, the Law says, ‘You shall have no other Gods,’ but you have plenty of other Gods, most of your own making. Unbelief is at the root of every sin. The righteousness that God’s Law requires is impossible for your heart of sin, and the Holy Spirit reveals that bitter truth to you.
Therefore, He proclaims to you the penalty, speaking the truth about judgment: “concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” The judgment for sin is declared clearly by the Holy Spirit in the Scriptures: the wages of sin is death. Those who stand before God on judgment day wearing the tattered and filthy rags of their sin will be condemned to hell eternally.
The Holy Spirit comes to convict this world, to convict you and me, of sin, of a lack of righteousness, and the judgment to come. That is His work, and it is necessary; it should drive you to your knees in repentance. Only then can the Holy Spirit do His proper work, the work He delights in, the work of the Gospel. He speaks the truth about sin: “concerning sin, because they do not believe in me.” If the only sin that counts is unbelief, then the one who believes in Christ has no sin. They are all forgiven, washed away by the blood of Jesus. He died that all who believe in Him would stand sinless before God. You have no sin, for you believe in the one who bore your sin to the cross and paid the price for them there. Every deed you do is covered by the blood of Christ, for you now bear a righteousness that is not your own.
The Holy Spirit speaks the truth about this righteousness: “concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer.” He exposes, He brings to light the righteousness of Christ. He turns those who are not righteous to the holy, innocent, and righteous One dying upon the cross. He hangs there in your place; His righteousness for you, and the Holy Spirit brings you that righteousness through faith. Jesus departs to the cross so that you will stand before God righteous, clean, pure, and holy. On Judgment Day you will not wear your own filthy rags of sin, but the white robe of Christ’s own righteousness.
With joy the Holy Spirit proclaims to you the truth about this judgment: “concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” You are not judged with the condemnation of hell, for Christ Himself was judged in your place and endured the penalty you deserved. Now, your jailer, your persecutor, your enemy, the ruler of this world, is judged, condemned eternally. Sin, death, and the devil have been judged and will be destroyed, but you have been acquitted; for you wear the robe of Christ’s righteousness, and through faith in Him, you have no sin.
It is to our advantage that Christ departs, for when He departs, He sends to us the Holy Spirit, who will proclaim this glorious message to us. “When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth, for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and He will declare to you the things that are to come.” The Holy Spirit brings us Jesus; that is His task, and it is a task that spans all time and all places. “He will glorify me, for He will take what is mine and declare it to you.” He will take Christ’s Word and give it to us through the Scriptures; He will take Christ’s forgiveness and apply it to us through Holy Absolution; He will take Christ’s sonship and give it to us through Holy Baptism; He will take Christ’s Body and Blood, the price of our redemption, and give it to us in the Lord’s Supper. The Holy Spirit is Christ’s greatest gift, for He brings Christ Himself to us. Our Lord isn’t absent, but through the gift of the Holy Spirit He is with us, sustaining, supporting, and forgiving us.
Jesus declared at the beginning of our text: “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.” The Holy Spirit sends us out into the world, as He sent the twelve apostles out, to proclaim what He has revealed to us. The Holy Spirit gives us the Law, so that we may convict, reveal, and expose the sin of the world, and He gives us the Gospel, so that we may reveal and expose the redemption of Christ that paid for the sin of the world. He bears witness to us and we go forth and bear witness to others.
By now you see that Pentecost is vitally important. On that day, Jesus fulfilled the promise of our text; He sent to His Church the gift of the Holy Spirit. With the sound of a rushing wind, with the tongues of fire, with the speaking of other languages, Christ’s greatest gift was bestowed on His beloved people. You received the Holy Spirit in the hour in which you first believed; whether He worked through the proclamation of the Word or the waters of Holy Baptism, the Holy Spirit broke into your heart of sin on your own Pentecost, fulfilling the promise of our text: “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness about me.” He has come, and He will continue to come, until that great Day when Christ fulfills His greatest promise and returns in glory to bring you to Himself forever. Without Pentecost, we would be left alone; with Pentecost, we wait with the Holy Spirit beside us, and that, dear friends in Christ, makes Pentecost a day to celebrate. In the Name of Jesus, who gives all good gifts through the gift of the Holy Spirit, Amen.